Could 5G networks make Brazil’s traffic mobile? Credit: Image credit: rook76 /
Wireless Technologies

Could 5G networks make Brazil’s traffic mobile?

Anyone visiting a mobile phone industry trade show 10 years ago would have been forgiven for thinking they’d walked into a sort of Playboy exhibition. Wags at the time said the term 3G networks stood for games, gambling and girls. In fourth generation networks, where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube’s cute icons seem to snap up the bandwidth as soon as it appears, G number four signified Galloping Consumption.

But if Ericsson and its research partners in Brazil’s elite academic institutes succeed in their bid to evelop fifth-generation mobile networking technology, they could pioneer some much needed economies. The fifth G could stand for Green.

Telecoms kit manufacturer Ericsson and Brazilian mobile operator América Móvil are jointly building Latin America's first test systems for 5G networks to be installed in Brazil from 2016. Ericsson is undertaking joint 5G radio research with the Federal University of Ceará (UFC) and is now extending its work with additional programmes with the University of São Paulo (USP) and University of Campinas (UNICAMP) to be conducted in 2017.

Spokesman Edvaldo Santos, head of Ericsson’s Latin America Innovation Centre, is quite guarded about developments at this stage but he can divulge that the boffins at USP and UNICAMP are investigating the possibilities of creating cyber-physical systems out of sensors and 5G. The next generation of mobile networks, by the sound of things, is going to be all about creating economies in infrastructure, agriculture, energy and the environment.

Instead of working on new ways to extract and consume more of Brazil’s natural resources the projects could look at new ways to make the most of what we have. That means creating more intelligent, self-healing and self-regulating systems for Brazil’s transport infrastructure, its health services, its oil and gas industries and its agriculture. So the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine technology are going to tweak and fine-tune all the variables in the Brazilian economy, from human resources to raw materials to weather responses.

First they have to create the communications foundation. Initial work will centre on an investigation into MiMo (multiple-input, multiple-output) with UFC and working on transceiver design with multiple antennas on base stations and user terminals systems for 5G. The aim, of course, is to increase the capacity of current wireless communications systems.

Other research and development will concentrate on D2D (Intelligent radio resource allocation) with UFC as Ericsson seeks to pioneer research into the control and provision of quality-of-service in 5G systems. The two partners will develop new algorithms and radio resource allocation techniques in a bid to achieve higher bit rates and higher rates of user satisfaction for 5G mobile communications systems. In addition, Ericsson and América Móvil will also create a test system for IoT with a focus on low-power applications, such as sensors for remote areas.

The first complete commercial 5G networks will be ready in 2020, according to Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg. What are the first economies they are likely to achieve?

The most promising area of improvement could be transport. Brazil's has some of the worst congestion problems in the world. On Friday evenings in Sao Paulo, according to local traffic engineers, there are tailbacks for 112 miles on average but 183 miles at worst. At the moment, mobile phones actually make the traffic worse, because the first thing many drivers do at the traffic lights, in these days of screen addiction, is interact with their handset.

There are systems in place already that try to improve the flow. Sao Paolo has a station dedicated to reporting traffic conditions and alternative routes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. SulAmerica Traffic Radio gathered a large following of listeners who also act as reporters, calling in to update other motorists or to vent their frustrations. During rush hour, the station has the support of a helicopter while a team of reporters is out on the road, often stuck in traffic themselves.

To Sao Paulo’s 11 million people heavy traffic is part of the culture. Would the people of Sao Paolo miss the jams? They’re part of their city now. In a recent BBC radio programme Fabiana Crespo told a reporter how she met her husband in a slow moving stream of cars, flirting with him across car windows, until eventually he asked for her number.

But some say wireless tech and the IoT will never cure the traffic problem. A “more manageable traffic” environment is the best possible scenario that can be achieved, according to Professor Claudio Barbieri, a professor in engineering and transport expert from the University of São Paulo.


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Nick Booth

Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.

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